A cancer diagnosis can bring about shifts in perspective, new and complicated feelings, and lots of questions. It’s important to be kind to yourself, allow yourself grace, and to reach out if you need help.
Dating, Sexual Health and Intimacy
As if navigating the world of dating, sex and romantic relationships wasn’t complicated enough, now you may have a whole new set of questions. When should you tell a new romantic partner about a cancer diagnosis? Do you have to tell them? Will sex be different, and will you want to have sex at all? How can these new challenges affect intimacy, sex and plans for the future in an established relationship?
Though they feel quite personal, these are all very common questions and it can help to hear from others about their experiences. OCRA’s Staying Connected support series meets virtually to talk through dating, sexual health and intimacy.
You can also find tips for talking with your partners about cancer, maintaining relationship intimacy, and solutions for new sexual changes, in Tips for Relationships.
Fertility and Surgical Menopause
For many patients, the emotional impact of surgical menopause and loss of natural fertility can be overwhelming. If your life plan involved having biological children — whether your first, or another addition to your family — you may feel a mixture of disappointment, anger, sadness, grief, or even some feelings of relief or guilt. There is no wrong way to feel, and it may help to talk with others going through the same thing.
It’s also important to know that in some cases, fertility can be preserved. If having children is important to you, be sure to inquire about fertility preservation options before starting treatment, and speak with a reproductive specialist. It may be possible to have children by means of alternative methods.
Separate from the question of having children, entering into surgical menopause — and experiencing physical symptoms and feelings you likely expected at some point later on, but not yet — can present its own confusion and challenges. It can help to learn about the common symptoms of menopause, and tips on how to manage the coming physical and emotional changes.
Talking with Loved Ones
There is no easy way to bring up the subject of cancer, especially if you are still working through your own feelings. You may wonder how much you need to say, when is the right time to say it, and how others will react. Though every situation is different, it can help to prepare yourself by reading some guidelines on how to talk about cancer with children, teenagers, loved ones and friends.
Goals of Care
While the goals of cancer treatment may seem obvious — remove or eradicate tumors and cancer cells, prevent recurrence or spread, relieve symptoms — goals of cancer care can mean something different, but are every bit as important. It’s helpful to think about goals of cancer care as focusing on overall quality of life and vision of the future, in tandem with decisions on disease and treatment. Goals of care may take more thought and quiet consideration to pinpoint, yet many people find that it’s well worth the effort.
SMART Goals for Cancer Care
Many people find that using SMART Goal framework — a strategy borrowed from the business world to create and measure attainable goals — also helps to identify goals of cancer care.
- Specific: What is the specific thing you want to accomplish?
- Measurable: How will you measure the goal, and know when it is reached?
- Achievable: Is this goal realistically achievable, with the amount of commitment and effort I can put behind it? Do I have the resources I need, and if not, will will I get those resources?
- Relevant: What makes this goal feel significant in my life?
- Timely: When will I achieve this goal?
Not all goals will be specific or measurable, but asking further questions of yourself can help you identify how you want to move forward.
- What are the things that are most important to you? Is it career, family, hobbies, traveling?
- Have you experienced a shift in what feels important?
- Have you experienced changes in ability to participate in past activities?
- Does your vision for the future align with your anticipated treatment and prognosis?
Consider why your goal is important to you; how your goal is beneficial; what obstacles or challenges may need to be overcome; and who you may be able to turn to for help, if needed.
Sometimes no matter how hard you try, the reality that you have been dealt the cancer hand can feel like too much. While some people may find it empowering to face this major life event head-on, for many, both the day-to-day and the road ahead can be overwhelming. If you are feeling despondent, you are not alone, and you can get help.
If you are experiencing thoughts of self-harm, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
According to the American Cancer Society, as many as 1 in 4 people with cancer may experience an episode of clinical depression. Clinical depression, also called major depression, is generally considered to include severe and lasting feelings of hopelessness, sadness, emptiness, anger or irritability, and loss of pleasure in activities that previously brought joy. Those with a history of depression are more likely to experience depression associated with a cancer diagnosis. While it may be common, you should tell your doctor if you are feeling depression or hopelessness, or if your emotions are negatively affecting your quality of life.
Talking with a professional therapist can help you make sense of your thoughts, and more clearly see the path forward — or manage what may feel like new uncertainties or loss of control, as you navigate life with a gynecologic cancer. A counselor can also provide you with tools for communicating with loved ones, help work through major life decisions, and connect you with more resources and support if needed. You may find that individual counseling is right for you, or that you feel most comfortable in group counseling sessions, where you can share experiences with others.
There are several types of licensed counselors, each with different specialities. Learn more about counselors for cancer patients at cancer.net.